“I enjoy adventure and new experiences on a sailboat in the Caribbean.”

This mantra, or variations on it, are what keep the author going in this frank but funny recounting of a neophyte sailor’s exploration of the liveaboard dream. First-time author Rae Ellen Lee starts her tale in the mountains of rural Montana, where she and her new husband are living in an old bordello. Neither of them have any experience with sailing but get hooked on the idea of living on a sailboat while on a winter vacation to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Soon afterward, they try their hand at chartering a boat in the San Juan islands of Puget Sound, and within months they’ve sold their home and most of their possessions, moved to the Pacific Northwest, and purchased an Alberg 30 in need of some TLC. The bulk of the book documents various aspects of the author’s coming to terms with a completely new way of living.

This is not a Cinderella story of wishes fulfilled; the way to this new life is filled with unexpected snags at every turn. Rae Ellen has a hard time with the constant motion of the boat, and she hasn’t got a clue as to what all the ropes are for at the start. But the book is filled with her wry humor, such as her version of GPS, which she terms her “Grunt and Point System.”

With chapter titles such as, “I Only Cuss When I’m Sailing” and “To Be Rooted Is The Property of Vegetables,” the humor is somewhat reminiscent of Herb Payson’s dry, understated style. But it’s interspersed with honest discussions on the insecurities the author feels about her lifestyle change. Halfway through the book, I felt things were bogging down a bit with Rae Ellen’s philosophical musings; but then she came right back with a wonderful recounting of a Thanksgiving spent aboard. This event begins with the author trying to locate a turkey “less than seven inches high” to fit in the boat’s diminutive oven.

The biggest disappointment in the book may turn out to be a positive. Judging from the cover photograph (the smiling author standing on a heeling deck, gazing up at the sails of a vessel obviously in tropical waters), I expected the happy couple to make it to the Caribbean on the boat of their dreams. But the close of the book finds Rae Ellen still on Puget Sound, still wondering if her choice of lifestyle was the right one for her. One can only hope this is just the first leg of the voyage. As sailors are fond of saying, the voyage itself is at least as important as finally reaching your destination.

If the Shoe Fits (The Adventure of a Reluctant Boatfrau) By Rae Ellen Lee (Sheridan House, 2001; 224 pages)